The importance the South African military places on peacekeeping in Africa and having a stable and prosperous continent can be seen in its hosting of Exercise Amani Africa II later this year and its involvement in the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC) force.
South African Army chief, General Vusi Masondo, said that some people have questioned whether South Africa should be committing itself to operations on the continent when there are burning issues at home such as border security, but that development of the continent would not happen in an environment of carnage and instability.
Masondo said instability in neighbouring countries affects South Africa and that if the country ignores African problems “we may witness another genocide…as a peace-loving African Union and United Nations member state we are obliged to contribute to peace and stability on the continent.” As a result the South African Army and South African National Defence Force (SANDF) are preparing combat ready forces to operate anywhere on the continent together with their African brothers and sisters, he said.
Masondo made the comments at the conclusion of Exercise Young Eagle at the Lohatla Combat Training Centre (CTC) in the Northern Cape on 20 August, which was designed to prepare, assess and exercise the South African National Defence Force’s airborne capability and assess the crisis response capability of the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises, of which the SANDF is a key part.
Young Eagle has in recent times been a specialist air assault exercise with 6 SA Infantry Battalion, based at Grahamstown, the lead unit. It has regularly been staged at De Brug as a precursor to the SA Army’s major force preparation exercise – Seboka – at CTC.
This year there will be no Seboka, with the SANDF’s major training area handed to the African Union (AU) for its African Standby Force (ASF) preparation exercise Amani Africa II. Indications from Addis Ababa are that in the region of 5 000 troops will descend on Lohathla for the exercise which starts on October 19 and ends on November 7.
The South African Army said that all AU members from East and West Africa will take part in the exercise while all countries with the exception of the Central African Republic will take part from Central Africa. Members from North Africa will only send staff officers.
Masondo said the ASF should be established by the beginning of next year, resulting in no further need for the stopgap ACIRC, which was set up due to delays with the ASF.
Masondo noted that the African Union will decide where the ASF/ACIRC deploys, but pointed out several African countries experiencing instability, including, the Central African Republic, Burundi, South Sudan, Somalia and Sudan.
Between June and December South Africa will be leading whatever contingent is required to deploy as part of the ACIRC.
Masondo earlier this year said that the final strength of the ACIRC contribution from South Africa will be 1 800 personnel when they finally deploy. This will include personnel from all four arms of service. However, the final number will vary according to the tasks they are given.
The SANDF’s pledged force will reach an interim operational capacity by 30 September 2015, with full operational capacity by 30 November this year.
The South African contribution includes a battalion comprised of mostly 9 South African Infantry Battalion in Cape Town and including four rifle companies, a supply company and anti-aircraft defence, armour, mechanised, logistics and engineering elements.
ACIRC was launched at the 21st African Union Summit in 2013 as a force to be assembled by volunteer states that would enable the AU to deal rapidly with crises, avoiding reliance on foreign powers to intervene in conflicts such as in the Central African Republic and Mali where the French are heavily involved.
Defence analyst Helmoed Romer Heitman stated that the ACIRC was established because the ASF was not going anywhere and had the key problem that it assumed a regional brigade would deal with regional issues, which does not take into account that some of the countries of a region might actually be a part of the problem. “The West African standby force (the previous ECOMOG Brigade) stood by while Mali unravelled. The Central African standby force (FOMAC in this particular guise) stood aside when Seleka attacked – except for one major contingent that joined forces with Seleka and also attacked our contingent there. The East African standby force exists, but almost all of those countries have so many troops in Somalia that it is difficult to see where they would find the warm bodies to maintain any sort of deployment over and above that. The North African states never bothered. The SADC Brigade exists, but needs SA to take the lead and we seem to remain unwilling to be a leader.
“It is past time that we all grew up and began to understand that all countries have interests and that sometimes they coincide with ours and sometimes they do not. Pick the times when they coincide and cooperate for the common good.”